Sound Objection/Sound Focus

Sound Objection/Sound Focus
Towards a post-phenomenological understanding of the sound object
Karl Liesky


Pierre Schaeffer’s original conceptualisation of the Sound Object shows the potential of music as a means of philosophical thought, and the effectiveness of an application of a school of philosophical thought to a specific domain of cultural practice, here music. In this case, the development of musique concrète and ‘l’objet sonore’ (the sound object) succeeded in expanding understandings and potential usages of both phenomenology and music as an academic, creative or enjoyment-focused endeavour. The potential usefulness of Schaeffer’s concept of Sound Object however, is limited somewhat by Schaeffer’s separation of philosophy and music into two essentially separate domains of thought. Rather than applying ‘rational’ philosophical thought to a subjective practice, a truly successful application would not have viewed listening as being either philosophical (in ‘reduced listening’) or ‘just’ for enjoyment. Instead, it would have shown the irrationality of all thought relying on essentialist definitions and binary oppositions.

My aim is not to invalidate Schaeffer’s phenomenological approach per se, but rather to find out which elements of phenomenology are are useful to sketch an understanding of sound and its related concepts without supporting essentialising ontologies and implicit presuppositions. Following Gilles Deleuze’s example in Difference and Repetition, I use the term ‘implicit presuppositions’ here to refer to more ‘invisible’ forms of assumptions that are present in a theory but aren’t explicitly apparent. These differ from the presuppositions that are explicit, or identified (though often not truly dislodged), such as when Edmund Husserl asserts that he will “no longer judge regarding the distinction between reality and appearance” (Husserl 1975, 7-8). Here, he identifies the assumption that what he experiences has any link to a unified real, and then explicitly states that he will not continue to assume as such. This sort of assumption is easy to spot (due to its signposting at the very least). Implicit presuppositions on the other hand present a single way of thinking or a single concept/set of concepts as universally Known or True without being or needing to be explicitly said – they take the form of: “everybody knows, no one can deny”.”

Karl Leisky is a multimedia artist based in Dunedin, using visual forms, sound, and writing – both in combination and separately – to highlight and challenge the separation between art forms, art & non-art, subject and object, binary opposite and binary opposite. In embracing this goal, Karl blurs their academic, home, and art life where working towards a PhD in gender studies, writing for various publications, developing an art practice, performing in bands such as the Queer political Hardcore Punk band Yung Nat$ and the drone outfit Bolton Strid, and raising a child are all part of the same process. 

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